My journey through the world of publishing has taken a bespoken turn this year with the publication of the limited edition of handmade, leather bound copies of my latest tome on ceremonial magick, Pyramidos: Self Initiation in the Aeon of Horus by Hell Fire Club Books. The process of producing these high quality works of the bookbinder’s art has often been an enlightening one, making me mindful of how the process of publishing has become more accessible, while the magick of writing and publishing books of real substance has remained a vital craft that has been enhanced by the introduction of modern digital technologies in such a way that the writer and the publisher can develop relationships that would be impossible to have with the behemoths of the modern world of books.
The outcome of developing a book in this way has been a skillfully executed volume that has been made to be a durable, practical book that is as highly desired for its artistic qualities as for the substance of its content. Because each volume is hand made using long established bookbinding techniques, the publisher has involved me at every step in the process, keeping me updated on the progress of everything from the printing to the promotion of the edition, forging a transparent working relationship that is reminiscent of the world of books in a by-gone era before the multinational booksellers determined the books that we would read and which titles would top the bestseller lists for Christmas.
New Books in Old Covers
The accessibility of digital litho printing technology that made self publishing a viable process has become a thorn in the side of many large traditional publishing houses that are losing their exclusive grip on publication. While the “Big Five” may seem to be struggling to come to terms with the new world of digital publishing, writers and bespoke publishers have taken advantage of these emerging technologies, generating a new wave of booksellers that are focused on creating high quality books that appeal to the bibliophile’s enduring love of paper and leather. I have been lucky enough to meet one such artist/bookbinder/publisher/entrepreneur in the person of Eamonn Loughran of Hell Fire Club Books.
I first connected with Eamonn at the suggestion of a common acquaintance, Kevin Davis who shares a mutual interest in magick and Thelema. Kevin has been working on a publishing project with Eamonn and suggested that I may be able to contribute to it as well. I contacted Eamonn and he explained his concept of producing excellent quality editions of occult texts, both old and new, to foster the growing interest in occultism and to preserve the work of contemporary occultists (such as myself) in volumes that have an intrinsic value as works of art in their own right. In the meantime I was preparing to publish Pyramidos: Self Initiation in the Aeon of Horus, and I showed the manuscript to Kevin to get his opinion. He suggested to Eamonn that he might be interested in publishing a limited edition of the book and, on hearing the idea I readily agreed to be involved with what appeared even from the outset to be an exciting and magical process- creating a modern grimior.
Because Hell Fire Club Books is a small publisher with a tight focus I was able to be intimately involved in the entire process of creating the book. This began with setting the book up for printing and, unlike the online print on demand services, the fact that the books are made by hand allows for the edition to be produced in a custom size, rather then the standard trade dimensions required across the publishing industry, giving the end result a unique aesthetic not found in mass produced editions.
Once the interior design of the book was complete and the printing was finished, Eamonn applied the real artistry to the volume and when he outlined his plans for the book I readily agreed to what sounded like a beautifully bound edition without fully understanding what the end result would be. At the time I had no idea how involved the process itself was either. Eamonn brought all of the traditional bookbinding skills to the task with each handmade volume going through a surprisingly complex series of steps, all done by hand. Folding the pages, sewing, adding end papers, rounding and backing, adding head-banding and place marker ribbon, applying layers of paper lining to the spine, trimming, cutting the boards for the covers, lacing the book together in its newly made binding, paring and finally gold tooling the leather cover are all done meticulously by hand. During the process each book goes through at least six wet gluing stages and is pressed multiple times to ensure the tightness of the stitching and the consolidation of paper fibers, nipping the completed book into its leather covers- the whole process can cover over forty individual steps to produce one handmade copy of the book. Being handmade, each book is a unique edition because of the natural inconsistencies of the materials used and the variations that occur in handling each book as it is being made.
The design chosen by Eamonn for Pyramidos included midnight blue cross grain calf skin with hand embossed gilt titles, black and gold head and tail bands with scarlet moire silk endpapers which sounded grand when he explained it to me but was even more amazing and beautiful when I first had the book in my hands. Like many others that have acquired a copy of this edition of Pyramidos, the aroma of new leather and the solid, weighty feel of the book has impressed me as much as the sheer artistry of its construction.
Maintaining the Magical Tradition
In many ways, this sort of publishing model is closer to the traditional way that most of the classical works of occultism have been produced in the centuries since the invention of moveable type printing. Even in this more spiritually enlightened age, books of technical occultism are never going to have a very broad appeal and so getting them published is always going to be a challenge. Many of the accepted classics of occult literature were originally published privately in very limited numbers, a fact that is often forgotten in these days of downloading pdf ebooks and mass produced grimiors. As appealing, and useful as this is for modern students of the occult arts it doesn’t go a long way towards preserving the contemporary advances in occultism in a form that ensures its long term preservation- a long standing concern of many of the great magicians of the past.
The advent of POD publishing has, to a certain extent, made it easier for occultists to produce books but the easy accessibility of the medium also means that a lot of books of varying quality have appeared on the market and it is often difficult to know their true value. The advantage of using even a small, bespoke publisher is that the content must pass muster with someone other than the writer before all of the time, money and effort is put into publishing the book. This process of natural selection also gives the reading public more confidence when they purchase new books on magick and many people that are interested in books of occultism actively follow these sorts of small publishers, specifically looking for unique contemporary publications and modern recreations of traditional texts in high quality editions.
Magick has always been a rapidly evolving study and has produced a continual supply of new manuals of instruction since the ancient Egyptians scrawled their invocations on papyri in the time of Ptolemy and the pace at which occultism has developed and diversified in the modern day has greatly accelerated as we have become more interested in exploring alternative spiritualities in the last century. While the biggest publishing houses are still unlikely to take an interest in these niche oriented editions, it has created a sizeable demand for high quality publications that makes it a great time to be an occult author.